Band of the Day: Little King

Founder member Ryan has been all over the place by the sound of it, but he’s currently settled in Arizona where he tells us all about Little King…

Simple things first – where are you guys from?

Hi! I was born in Cali, grew up in Seattle, went to school in Arizona and El Paso, TX, back to Bay Area, moved to Delaware, then back to Arizona. Pretty easy, right?

I met Manny (Tejeda, bass and backing vox) in Delaware, and we hit it off. Eddy (Garcia, drums and engineer) and I have known each other for about 25 years from the El Paso music scene.

How did you meet?

Ed and I have been friends since he and his brother Danny owned the seminal club called the Attic in the mid-90’s. It was really the only small club in El Paso at that time that catered exclusively to touring and local original bands. I loved that place…we all did. Eddy and Danny fought the good fight, but it eventually closed and Danny moved to Brooklyn (where he owns another amazing place called First Live.) Ed stayed in El Paso with his band Pissing Razors and became a legend. He’s also played with Overkill and Ministry…serious dude. We’ve made 5 albums together (after the new one is done, anyway) and he is one of my closest friends.

Manny is originally from the Dominican Republic, but I met him in a bar in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where we both lived until last month. Manny is a great musician and even better friend, and we recorded with Eddy last year in El Paso for Occam’s Razor, so now there is chemistry between all of us. I am blessed to play music with my closest friends, and it’s been that way for over 23 years and almost 7 albums. So lucky am I!

How long have you been playing as a band?

Little King formed in 1996 as a vehicle for some songs I wanted to try and record. It wasn’t pretty, but the songs were decent and the seed was planted…and here I am, 23 years plus later. I think I just got addicted to the creative process and the fact that there is a tangible result at the end that contributes to my legacy – both as a musician and as a human. And, as I said, every person who has played on a Little King album is a friend, and the ability to make music with my homies (and home-ettes) and have an audience who appreciates it in growing numbers is just incredible.

Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?

Don’t let the Little King do the thinking for the Big King.

(Also, “Ryan” translated means “Little King” in Gaelic!)

What are your influences?

Diverse! I don’t operate at one speed, and neither do my tastes in music. I love Pantera…I can’t listen to them all the time. Same with Rush, Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, Peter Tosh, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, Grateful Dead, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Vivaldi, Mozart, Sun Kil Moon, Allah Las, etc. We have to have a soundtrack reflective of our bio-rhythms, and that’s what Little King is mean to be! Within one 30-minute album, I wanna hit all of your feels.

Describe your music. What makes you unique?

Ahhh…I get asked that in every interview, and it’s such a brutal question! I always cop out and say “Dynamic Rock” as per the previous answer. But you tell me? We don’t pigeonhole very well. Never proggy enough for the true Dream Theater crowd, never poppy enough the Alt Rock heads. That suits me just fine, though. We are Little King. That’s what we sound like. Hit is again.

Do you have any particular lyrical themes?

I have a degree in creative writing. Lyrics are an OBSESSION. I don’t let a single word through without editing. They all must have purpose, be uncliched, help paint an overall picture, and function musically as well…I am the singer and guitarist, so they have to work both aesthetically and intellectually. It’s not easy, but maybe it is what helps set us apart?

The theme of our album that’s currently in the works is “all things quarantine.” The title is Amuse de Q, and it is very conceptual. The lyrics will deal with isolation and hope, domestic violence, the BLM movement, sobriety, and more. Universal concepts, really, that have been exacerbated or brought into focus during the Q – Quarantine, Questions, QAnon BULLSHIT conspiracies – it’s all in there.

Occam’s Foil from 2019 was about the medieval theory of “Occam’s Razor” and how it pervades modern thought and society, and not necessarily in a good way. Legacy of Fools (2008) dealt with my legacy as a high school teacher (for a bit), parent, musician, and what we are leaving behind. Virus Divine (2003) exposed the difference one “woke” person can make in a world full of contradictory forces and messages. Time Extension (1998) was a concept album about a man on his death bed looking back and examining the choices he had made and asking for a little more time to go back and change some things…each song was one of those moments. There are couple other releases, to! So yes, I bring a lot of thought to my lyrical concepts. I hope people can relate.

What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?

So many shows…but none for a long time. That will change when the Q is lifted. I want to bring the pain lol! We are a 3 piece and all pretty goddamn entertaining in our own right. Manny, Eddy, and I have never played a show together, but it will be explosive. For sure. Before 2006, I must have played 200 shows, but not much touring since then. Life intrudes…but I am a performer and I WILL perform.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?

In 2001, our drummer busted his kick drum head and was drunk and struggling to change it on the fly because it was a local show and he didn’t have a tech. So…I laid on my back, invited a couple dancing lesbians on stage, and they poured whisky down my throat while I improvised a long guitar solo. It. Was. Awesome-ful!

What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?

I love that question…thanks for asking it. I’m a gear head for sure. In the studio I brought a bunch of guitars this time and just 3 amps, but it’s funny…I ended up using a hybrid guitar for much of it that was built by my friend James Rockmoore. He modified a custom strat-like thingy and put some EMG pickups in it. The guitar has been around Ed’s studio forever and sounded horrible James (who was very good friends with Dimebag and the Pantera group and used to open for them with his band Disciple) made that thing scream. We A/B’d it with some really beautiful guitars like my 2 PRS CE’s (a 22 and 24), my 2001 Les Paul Standard, and a Epi Goldtop which I have used a ton for the last 2 albums…and the Rockmore Won! Still also used the others a bit, and I am going back for solos soon, and I will definitely be using my axes for that.

Also used a Mexi-Martin for the acoustic stuff through a mini-Loudbox which sounds amazing. Regular amps were a 50-watt JCM 800 from the mid-80’s which is undefeated, my old JC-120 which is undefeated for cleans, and a 1960 Marshall Cab with a couple other options as well. And a shit-ton of effects that Eddy disapproves of lol…

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

We are finishing Amuse de Q as we speak. 90% of the guitars are done, and all the bass and drums are finished. I am listening to some faders-up mixes and working on finalizing lyrics, guitar solos, and my friend David Hamilton is writing some string arrangements again. He did for a song called “The Skin That I’m In” from the last album and I think it’s the best Little King song ever. Happy to have him back on cello and Christina Hernandez on violin. They clearly make me look good.

The other very cool development is that my son, Asher Syrinx, is playing piano on a bit of another song called “Set It Down.” How cool is that? He is a teenager so he doesn’t really get excited about anything, but he is working diligently with his teacher and me and has come up with a great part. It’s a lifelong dream to have my kids on a record, and that’s happening this time for sure. Proud of little Syrinx for sure.

If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you?

I’d have no idea who’d open for us! Any local band with a creative flair and some integrity would be welcome, regardless of genre. Hip Hop, Deep House, Classical…bring it on. Little King loves you!

I would love to open for the Rush Revival with Portnoy on Drums. Wait…what?

A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!

Please check out Pissing Razors, our drummer Ed’s band. He has produced 7 albums with them and has another one coming out around the same time as Amuse that will be called Eulogy – Death March. We’ve lost A LOT of close friends in the last few years to partying and other things, and I am sure the Razors have a lot to say about that. I love those guys and their music is kick in the balls. Also love to support our friend Cesar Soto in Ministry. Another El Paso dude made good. Same with Jared Putnam in the March Divide and of course any Sparta or Mars Volta effort. Love our homies in Lower Case Blues from Delaware as well. They deserve to be stars.

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